Five Afflictions Destroying Your Happiness

Are you happy? Are you truly happy at the deepest level of your being? Sure, on a superficial level, happiness is relatively easy to achieve or at least to project outwardly, but on the inside it’s a whole different story.

Outward happiness can be achieved through a smile, purchasing a new possession, even a new relationship. What they all have one thing in common however, is that they are temporary. When I get what I want I’m happy. When I avoid what I don’t want I’m happy. When I’m in love I’m happy. But what happens when life doesn’t go how I want it to? I feel angst, I feel loss, I feel less than, I feel sadness. Today, I’ll talk about the “Kleshas” of the “five afflictions” responsible for causing suffering and ultimately, unhappiness.

The motivation for today’s article came the other day while I was sitting in the sun outside of a yoga studio, I had my eyes closed and was trying to calm my anxiety levels down by taking in some deep calming breaths. A friend walked by and noted how peaceful and happy I looked, I immediately replied “I’m not, I just appear to be on the outside.”

I think I startled her, but I’ve realized that pretending to be happy on the outside doesn’t lead to true happiness on the inside.

This got me thinking about why I was in such a bad mood and I realized it was due to the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing, moving from one Klesha to another.

being crushed

The Five Afflictions:

1. Avidya (ignorance):

Ignorance implies a false understanding or false connection to reality, it can show up in many different forms. We all have friends who think they are either far more talented than they are or others who struggle to see how truly amazing they are, both are different sides of the same coin.

We see this manifest itself constantly in our daily lives, like when we believe we are not “good enough” or when we bring false assumptions into situations. Avidya is the root of the other four Kleshas, when we carry heavy amounts of false perceptions, we limit what we are able to achieve, what we are able to see and ultimately how happy we are able to be.

2. Asmita (I-am-ness):

That old tricky son of a bitch, the Ego lives here. The Ego or identification with the self sets all types of traps for our minds as it constantly compares, judges and projects itself into all aspects of life. The Ego wants to tell you your thoughts are who you truly are, that your possessions are who you are and that your role in society determines who you are.

These are all forms of self-identification popping up which prevent us from seeing that we are already whole and that the physical world is only temporary, ever changing and moving. The Ego wants you to believe that life is constant and eternal and that the more you hold on to the external world, the happier you will be. The exact opposite is true.

3. Raga (attachment):

The more you are attached (to anything) the more suffering you will feel. I’m talking about possessions here as well as relationships and even family. Attachment means you believe you are not whole without the things you are grasping to, always trying to get more and more of what you want in order to be happy. When you get what you want, you’re happy (for a while), then the mind gets bored and wants something different.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t have desires, possessions or love, we can strive for whatever we want. What it does mean however, is that we learn to give 100% effort and attention to the things we want, but we remain unattached to the outcomes. If you are unattached to the outcome, whatever happens in the end, you will not suffer. You may be sad but you won’t lose a sense of you are at a deeper level, your life will not be derailed.

4. Dvesha (repulsion):

The opposite of attachment. In essence this means that you are constantly trying to avoid the things in life that you don’t want. When you avoid what you don’t want, you are happy, when you experience what you don’t want, you are unhappy. See the trap here? Resistance lives here and deep levels of stress live here as a result. We all experience this regularly, it can be something as small as getting upset over the barista mixing up your coffee order or as big as getting fired from a job.

When the mind does not get what it wants, it becomes unhappy. The more you can learn to drop your aversions, the less effect they will have on your life. Someone messes up your coffee, does this really matter? Your boss fires you and now you can’t afford all of your possessions (attachments), have you really changed? You are the same, only your external world now looks different.

5. Abhinivesha (will to live):

I see this one as more so being “F.E.A.R”. False Evidence Appearing Real. The more fear you have in your life, the more handcuffed you are by the external world. When you can learn to remove fear (of death or anything) you can begin to live in a world which is free, open and limitless.

It is said that the Kleshas can be burnt up through a yoga practice and through meditation. What this means is that it takes conscious effort to first see these afflictions popping up in different areas of your life, then cultivate enough will power to dissolve them and release your attachments to them. I have experienced this greatly over the past ten years of mindfulness work, but wasn’t until I learned of the Kleshas that I had a framework to understand why and how these have begun to dissolve. I hope you have a similar experience.

Lovers being unhappy because of troubled date

It is said that the Kleshas can be burnt up through a yoga practice and through meditation.

What this means is that it takes conscious effort to first see these afflictions popping up in different areas of your life, then cultivate enough will power to dissolve them and release your attachments to them. I have experienced this greatly over the past ten years of mindfulness work, but wasn’t until I learned of the Kleshas that I had a framework to understand why and how these have begun to dissolve. I hope you have a similar experience.


Need help identifying and jumping off the Klesha roller coaster? Reach out about our on-line or private coaching programs today!

Nick Palladino-King teaches students and clients how to reduce stress, to increase happiness and to elevate health through yoga, wellness coaching and strength training.

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